How the Astros most challenging offseason obstacle is a matter of philosophy

Free agents may not get the playing time they want if they sign with Houston. Composite image by Jack Brame.

As the free agency period continues in Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros have seen targets, such as Willson Contreras and now former team catcher Christian Vázquez sign with different teams leaving the reigning champions with voids to fill.

During the team’s introductory press conference for first baseman José Abreu, owner Jim Crane said outfield and catcher were two areas Houston was looking to improve in. Since then, not only have the Astros lost out on key targets, but they have actually seen the catcher position thin out, not only with the loss of Vázquez, but the retirement of Jason Castro as well.

According to reports around the league, there are various players that could be on the trading block, which is another way for the Houston Astros to improve. In particular, a name that has been linked with Houston is Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Daulton Varsho.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks have engaged in trade talks about Varsho, but the asking price remains steep.

The question for the Astros is how steep is too steep? It is clear that Crane’s mindset is to compete for another World Series Championship in 2023.

Would Houston be willing to part with one of its young key players, such as pitchers Hunter Brown or Cristian Javier, or even the unthinkable, Jeremy Peña? Probably not. Would Houston be able to sell to Arizona a package not centered around at least one of those key pieces? Who knows.

How aggressive Houston is all depends on how big the ownership and those making the decisions in the front office believe the void is in the outfield and at catcher.

Varsho’s numbers in 2022 were .235/.302/.443 with 27 home runs. As the two sides continue to negotiate, one thing has become clear, Houston is not as confident that it has a Peña-level player waiting in its farm system to plug in and play at those positions in 2023.

When Carlos Correa left for Minnesota last season, the Astros went to Peña without much of a second thought in regard to the shortstop position. That has not been the case with Houston this offseason, at least when factoring the reports.

Houston has Yainer Diaz and Korey Lee as other catchers on the payroll for 2023. The Astros also have Jake Meyers, Chas McCormick and Kyle Tucker as designated outfield players. Houston fans know that Dusty Baker will also move Yordan Alvarez into left field as well.

While Meyers and McCormick have been around the Astros and made plays for the team, especially McCormick’s epic World Series Game Five catch, they are far from irreplaceable.

The same can be said for catcher. Diaz’ numbers in the minors in 2022 were .306/.356/.542 while in six games in the majors they fell to .125/.222/.250. For Lee it was .238/.307/.483 in the minors and .160/.192/.240 in 12 games for the Astros in the majors during the 2022 season.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle, specifically at catcher, for free agents is Baker’s management philosophy. The skipper values the defense and leadership of Martin Maldonaldo, and any catcher that signed with Houston would have to split reps with the veteran catcher.

Former San Diego Padres catcher Jorge Alfaro remains a free agent that Houston could pursue while the group in the outfield position has thinned.

According to USA Today, the Toronto Blue Jays are willing to move one of their three catchers in Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno. Toronto could be another option for Houston to trade with.

Once again, how aggressive the Astros are, will depend on how big of a void Crane and the front office believe there is on the roster.

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With so much on the line for the Astros this past weekend, they couldn't possibly get swept by the Royals, could they?

That's exactly what they did thanks to some poor pitching, and an inability to get timely hits with runners in scoring position.

The Astros are currently clinging to the last wild card position as they head to Seattle to face the Mariners, with Justin Verlander on the mound for the 'Stros.

Starting pitching has been the biggest issue for the club as of late, with Hunter Brown looking unusable moving forward. Brown has given up, wait for this, 6 earned runs or more in 3 of his last 4 starts. His ERA for the season is now over 5.

So how will the rotation look over the final stretch of games? We know for the Mariners series the team is rolling out Verlander, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez.

The club is off on Thursday, and they head to Arizona for a 3-game series with the Diamondbacks that starts Friday. We predict JP France will pitch Friday, with Justin Verlander likely taking the ball Saturday.

Then all bets are off for Sunday. It could be Framber on 3-days rest, or all hands on deck for a bullpen game.

Of course, with the division race being so close, things could change on a daily basis. There's even a scenario where Arizona secures their wild card, and the final two games of the season don't matter for them.

The other big factor will be the outcome of the 4-game Rangers-Mariners series that finishes off the season.

Be sure to watch the video above as we examine all the scenarios leading up to the end of the regular season for Houston, and much more!

Watch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every Thursday on SportsMap Houston's YouTube channel.

And listen to ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 FM for Houston's best sports talk.

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